At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Pacific Rim “2013”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Pacific Rim “2013”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Sci-Fi Monster/Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Burn Gorman, Diego Klattenhoff, Robert Maillet, Heather Doerksen, Joe Pingue, Santiago Segura, Brad William Henke, Larry Joe Campbell, Robin Thomas, Julian Barnes, David Richmond-Peck, Sebastian Pigott, Joshua Peace, Jonathan Foxon, David Fox, Jane Watson/Runtime: 132 minutes

If there is one thing that being a critic has managed to patiently reteach me over and over, it is that (contrary to popular belief) sometimes the movies that people love the most are not the ones that win awards or make them think via truly thought-provoking material. Rather, they are the ones that don’t win any awards whatsoever and are designed for one purpose and one purpose only. That being to keep you entertained from beginning to end with or without a giant tub of popcorn in your hand. No more and no less. To be sure, it may be a film that will (more often than not) receive quite the WWE Smackdown-level beatdown (chair optional of course) from the movie reviewing community, but as long as the audience loves it then the people responsible for it could really care less since they’ll be taking that beatdown all the way to the bank and then some. Yet while there are a lot of examples for this particular kind of movie, one of the genres that I have routinely seen dip its toe into this particular pond as of late would have to be the genre of movie magic dealing with monsters with perhaps the two most notable members of that group being Godzilla and King Kong (or just Kong) respectively and is it any wonder why? I mean sure there is a time and place to witness the great Laurence Olivier passionately recite Shakespeare, but if I had to choose between that and seeing a giant lizard breathe atomic fire against another giant monster with three heads or a giant monkey go after a pack of dinosaurs on an island….I’m sorry Laurence, but surely you can understand why there might be days where your talents are second on my watch list. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that, in addition to the collection of slices of cinema that we as movie goers have gotten with the scaly Tokyo destroying lizard and his furry Empire State Building climbing counterpart, there are other sci-fi monster movies that I feel deserve to have just as much of the attention as they get (if not infinitely more so than either the 1998 thing calling itself a Godzilla movie and/or the 1976 King Kong film despite the presence of both Jeff Bridges and Charles S. Grodin in the latter). The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because one of the “better” aforementioned sci-fi monster movies of the past 10-15 years has to be a slice of cinema from the long-ago year 2013 known as Pacific Rim. A movie that, when you boil it down to the core, is literally just a story about giant robots vs. giant alien monsters and to be sure it might not be everyone’s particular cinematic brew, but with the aid of skilled work on both sides of the camera still undeniably manages to be a solid and just plain fun film that the monster lovers amongst you are sure to enjoy time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Taking us to a possible near future-setting for our species, Pacific Rim gets its butt-kicking narrative underway by revealing that, in the aforementioned near-future, things aren’t as good as they could be for our species. No it’s not because the planet has found a way to make taxes higher nor is it because America’s worst fears have been realized and Pauly Shore is now the President of the United States (though I can definitely see how both of those might be terrifying to a lot of people out there). Rather, it’s because we have had our first encounter with an alien race from beyond our planet and yet, instead of coming from the sky to pay us a visit, we see that these aliens (or Kaiju as they are quickly deemed) have come up with a different travel plan. Instead, the Kaiju decide to come through a multidimensional tear of sorts located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and, upon surfacing, proceed to do what a lot of stupid tourists to a place do and that is begin trashing seemingly everything in sight. A choice that soon sets off a global conflict with all of humanity seemingly putting aside their respective differences in an effort to beat back this alien scum and send it back to where ever it comes from. Of course, this proves to be quite the difficult task at first since, even at our tallest, we can do little more than just flick these giant creatures on the side of the leg with no impact to them whatsoever. Fortunately, we soon see as this leads to the creation of a new weapon in the form of giant fighting robots, or Jaegers, that are operated by a pair of pilots via a neural link since operating one alone could really take a toll both physically and psychologically on an individual. In other words dear reader: we took the idea of the Rock’em, Sock’em Robot toy and just made it bigger. A lot bigger. Therefore, it is into this crazy time of monsters and robots that we are quickly introduced to our main hero in the form of a former Jaeger pilot by the name of Raleigh Becket. A guy who used to be one of the so-called best of the best when it came to piloting his respective Jaeger Son of Anarchy I mean Gipsy Danger, but who (for reasons I shan’t spoil here) has since left that life as far in the rearview mirror as he possibly can. Yet as much as Becket may be done with the program, we see that it isn’t quite done with him. A fact soon made apparent when Becket is visited by the commander of the Jaeger forces, one Stacker Pentecost. It seems that the governments of the world are quickly losing faith in the Jaegers’ abilities in defeating the Kaiju and, as a result, have all but scrapped the program and shuttling the last four Jaegers to Hong Kong to keep the coast safe despite Pentecost’s insistence he has a way to end the war for good. Thus can our hero, with a new rookie co-pilot, rise up and help save the day or is this about to be a world of monsters rather than man?

Now right off, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema is delightfully solid especially taking into account the dumb yet extremely fun premise that it is operating off of. With that being said though, there is one thing you should know right off the bat. That being that the story at the heart of this slice of cinema is by no stretch of the imagination original. As a result, not only will you be able to figure out each character’s individual arc in this within perhaps the first 15 minutes, but you will also know exactly where this story is going from beginning to end in perhaps the same amount of time as well. With that particular detriment out of the way however, I can definitely say that the rest of the work done behind the camera is more than up to the challenge to try and ensure this slice of cinema is able to work on the level that it is ultimately able to achieve. This starts with the masterful job by the iconic film director Guillermo del Toro at the helm and honestly he does an amazing (big surprise there I know) job with this movie. Perhaps the best example of his skill and prowess being on display here comes in the form of the moments of combat between the giant robots and the giant alien monsters. Indeed not only does del Toro do a terrific job at really letting you get a sense of the stakes involved in each of these fights (I mean there ARE people controlling these giant robots after all), but they are also incredibly staged and more clear to the eye than something out of say a Roland Emmerich film thereby making it easy for an audience to be swept up in each time we are treated to one during this film’s runtime. We also see that from how the robots and creatures are designed to the landscape of this possible future world that del Toro has done a brilliant job at making this film as detailed as he can possibly hope to muster. Indeed not only does his color range leap off the screen with such components as glowing fluids from the creatures to lit-up parts on the robots, but even the world that the film is set in is truly spectacular from the intricately designed Jaeger HQ (or Shatterdome as it is called in the film to a possible future Hong Kong that, right down to the neon and seemingly constant rain storms, gives off the vibe of being a more lively version of the Los Angeles that Blade Runner presented audiences with back in ’82.  Lastly, I would definitely be very much in the wrong if I did not take some time in this section to praise the work done by Ramin Djawadi (the first Iron Man, Gears of War 4, and 2010’s Clash of the Titans among others) in terms of this slice of cinema’s musical accompaniment. Indeed Djawadi does a truly masterful job here of giving this film a score that not only is the kind that might make you cheer along with the characters at points, but also proves to be an equal blend of rousing as well as appropriately larger than life yet also very much infused with a hearty helping of soul and pathos thrown in for good measure. Suffice it to say that it might not have the most novel narrative in the world by any means, but there is no denying that the rest of the work done behind the camera on this slice of cinema does an absolutely brilliant job at both bringing this film’s nothing short of remarkable world vividly to life to say nothing of making it a true treat the eyes and ears just as much as it is for the heart and the mind respectively.

Of course, the other element that can definitely either aid or torpedo a slice of cinema like this would have to be the work done by the cast of talent in front of the camera. In that regard, it should be noted that whilst their arcs may be entirely predictable the performances given by this immensely skilled group of actors definitely do a solid job all the same. Without a question, this starts with Charlie Hunnam and, as Raleigh Becket, he does a great job at giving us a hero who is not only relatable, but also genuinely worth watching as he strives to become the man he once was despite the tragedy that has shaken him to his core. Besides Hunnam, the movie also provides us with another more than capable hero in the form of a solid turn from Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori. Yes the character is, for a lot of her screentime, very much an enigmatic and reserved individual, but even so Kikuchi does a beautiful job at making her less the typical “female in an action movie” and more a fierce warrior in her own right who’s just as willing to kick alien butt as her male co-stars.  Alongside the work done by Hunnam and Kikuchi, this film contains a brilliant performance from the always engaging Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost. Yes, this character is very much the authority figure you’ve seen in other movies like this, but even so there is no denying that Elba does a remarkable job at giving the character the necessary degrees of gravitas, determination, inspiring, and even humanity to make him easily one of this film’s MVPs in terms of performances. We are also treated here to a wonderful dynamic bantering comedic duo coupling here courtesy of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb respectively. Indeed in regards to the former we see that Day does a terrific job of playing Newt less as a scientist and more like someone who is a live wire with an overabundance of personality and perhaps just a wee bit arrogant as well. As for the latter, we see that Gorman is terrific at playing his character as very much the antithesis of Day right down to being grumpier, more introverted, and extremely reserved to say nothing of continuously being exasperated by Newt and his antics. Indeed be they sharing the screen or operating apart, this is one duo that work incredibly well within the framework of the narrative (as predictable as it may be) and are sure to leave you at the very least chuckling. Lastly, I definitely think praise should be given here to del Toro regular (and just all-around enjoyable actor whenever he pops up in something) Ron Perlman in the pivotal support role of a notorious black marketer known as Hannibal Chau. Yes it might take him awhile to pop up in this and he may only have 20-30 minutes of screentime tops, but Perlman does an absolutely wonderful job at really playing this unapologetically slimy and sleazy gangster and just looking like he is having a blast through and through right down to rocking some incredible shades and awesome finger tattoos. That and, without going into spoilers, how he exits the film is…quite memorable for lack of a better word. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in work from such talents as Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., and Diego Klattenhoff among others it’s clear that the work by this group of performers is most assuredly able to go toe to toe with the jaw-dropping work done by the rest of the creative team behind the camera and bring their respective characters fairly vividly to life no matter how big or small their overall amount of screentime may be.

All in all and at the end of the day is Pacific Rim a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Honestly no, but then again this IS a movie about giant robots fighting giant alien monsters so I think it is safe to say that “perfect” is very much subjective. Having said that however, is this the worst slice of cinema for its respective genre to say nothing of in each of a lot of the talent behind or in front of the camera’s respective careers? Oh no definitely not. In fact, I think Idris Elba might want to have a talk with his agent because when your resume includes such “gems” as 2009’s Obsessed, 2014’s No Good Deed, and 2019’s Cats among others….I think it’s time you found better representation and FAST. All sarcastic observations aside dear reader, I must admit that I dig the heck out of this movie. To be sure, the narrative is predictable as heck, but the performances are certainly more than capable and the rest of the work done behind the camera is nothing short of jaw-dropping spectacular in bringing both the world and the phenomenal action beats of this slice of cinema roaring to life in the finest way possible. Suffice it to say that if you want a slice of cinema that the critics (myself usually excluded) typically go nuts for and then you will most likely hear about either as a nominee or a winner come award season then, visual effects aside, this most assuredly is NOT going to be one that you will decide to put on your playlist anytime soon. On the other hand, if you are someone who is on the lookout for a just plain fun popcorn movie where you can just sit back and relax for a couple of hours as some giant robots engage in kicking some giant bad guy alien butt with nothing less than the fate of the planet in the balance….then this definitely is going to be for you. Suffice it to say that it might not be perfect, but at the end of the day Pacific Rim is nothing short of a joy and a blast from start to finish and sometimes that’s really all you need. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Pacific Rim “2013” a solid 4 out of 5.